Trekkers’ death toll stands at 16, expected to rise

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THE death toll of people in the Sarawaget range stands at 16 as of Tuesday and is expected to rise.
Several groups were trying to reach Indagen, Kabwum for the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the first Lutheran missionaries to Morobe.
Among the dead were women and children; those rescued said the deaths were caused by exhaustion, exposure to the cold weather and sickness.
A survivor, Tane Murama, who lost her two uncles and was unsure about the condition of her mother and sister, said many people had died on the mountains and the number was expected to increase.
Murama, 18, from Pindiu in Mape, Finschhafen, said she and her family – mother, younger sister, a male cousin and two uncles – left Lae last Monday to trek the Sarawaget range to attend the celebration in Indagen.
Murama and her family were part of a group of 18 people who walked together to reach Indagen.
She said there were many other different groups apart from hers who had lost members on the trek through the mountains.
“We are part of the Suwinge family and our grandfather was one of the missionaries who brought Gospel out,” Murama said.
“We started walking on Monday and when we arrived at Ogau, we met some other groups and walked together.
“While walking, I saw people dropping their bags and looking for shelter and a place to keep warm.”
“By nightfall, ice fell so heavily that we couldn’t walk and we went into a small cave to hide but the cold was so strong. While in the cave, my uncle, who came from Kiunga (Western) to walk with us died of cold. We covered his body and we went into the cave trying to keep ourselves warm,” she said.
Murama said they lost her other uncle the next morning and her mother told her to continue and she would stay behind.
“Me, my sister and cousin brother left mum with the two bodies and started walking again. Along the way, my small sister said she couldn’t walk anymore and we left her and walked until we were rescued by the helicopter.
“I don’t know if my mum and sister are still alive or not. They have not been rescued and its five been days now,” she said.
Meanwhile, eight local trekkers from Indagen in Kabwum were flown into the Sarawaget Range on Monday to search for the missing and survivors as well as retrieve bodies according to Manolos Aviation.
Manolos chief executive officer and pilot Capt Jürgen Ruh told The National on Monday that search and rescue was ongoing, with only one body collected on Saturday.
Pilot Ryan Butler said on Monday he managed to fly 11 people out from Snake Creek in the Sarawaget Range to Indagen and continued yesterday.

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